NOBODY should have to live like this.
by Sesali B.
I have to confess: I have tried my best to stay as far away as possible from the Sandra Bland story. I haven’t read any articles. I’ve refused to press play on the video footage of her traffic stop. I’ve even scrolled past tribute posts dedicated to her, not out of disrespect or apathy, but for self preservation. The snippets of information that I have seen on social media told me everything I needed to know. A routine traffic stop ended badly for a Black woman. The woman’s name is Sandra Bland. Bland was found dead in her jail cell. And today, her death was ruled a suicide. Unfortunately, I feel competent enough to fill in the blanks, despite wishing I wasn’t.
The media coverage of state violence and death against Black people since the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin has been overwhelming, to say the least. The sheer number of publicized incidents combined with the saturation of those stories across media outlets makes it inescapable. When news of Martin’s murder began to circulate in 2012, many people grieved the loss of a child, but another affect that seemed to be circulating was hope. We were relieved that the death of a Black teenager was finally being taken seriously. We rallied for the law and the media to go all the way with this story; to be honest about a flawed and racist justice system and the realities of anti-Blackness in this country. The mass coverage of Martin’s death and the subsequent trial of George Zimmerman, and the affect of hope that followed, provided enough traction to launch what is being called today’s civil rights movement, Black Lives Matter.
The death of Sandra Bland, has been the latest in a string of stories about police brutality, neglect, violence, and mistreatment by police, against Black people. Mainstream news coverage of these events is certainly enough to trigger, and in many cases terrify, Black viewers. And I think this is only intensified for Black bloggers, activists, journalists, and other Black people who have to follow these stories more closely. We are constantly combing through different accounts, stories, profiles, documents, photos, and videos looking for new angles, figuring out what’s missing from certain narratives, and coming up with fresh takes. The pressure to have an opinion about everything that has made its way into the media circuit already requires a certain kind of emotional labor that is taxing on its own. But this burden is certainly exacerbated when the stories are so applicable to our own lives.
For many of us, the story of Sandra Bland isn’t a distant report out of Texas. It isn’t material for a casual conversations about the legal system. It’s not material for a murder mystery dinner. For us this is actually the same thing that happened to our cousin, our friend, our lover, our classmate, our sibling, our parent, our child, or someone else we know/knew. When a pre-teen Black girl is assaulted by a police officer at a pool party, or another officer shoots an unarmed man in the back and then lies about it, it is more than “news” to us. It’s something that some of us have experienced first hand in our communities. While the work requires some of us to immerse ourselves in the grisly details and pour all of ourselves into these horrifying stories in order to meet deadlines, they aren’t the kind of topics that go away when we close our laptops.
And following the release of today’s autopsy report in the Sandra Bland story, my timeline confirmed the affects that I have recognized for a while now as anti-Black terrorism continues to run rampant: fear and weariness. More than calls to rise up and fight, my friends are finding it hard to concentrate at work. They are consumed by the idea that things will never change for Black folks. We are all pissed. But more than anger, we are fucking tired and scared. We are worried. Case in point:
I was pulled over a couple of weeks ago for a moving violation I didn’t commit. I was in the car with three friends of mine – one of them Black in the passenger seat, the other two non-Black women of color in the back, while I drove. My friends in the back seat were obviously upset and angry that we were pulled over on a bogus violation. It angered them that the police officer flashed lights inside the car as if searching for some illegal contraband that he was sure we had. They were livid when when I received two tickets. But after awkwardly ‘yes, sir’ing the officer in a silent plea to not perceive me as threatening, my Black friend and I let out a simultaneous sigh of relief when we were able to drive away. Because from the moment we saw flashing lights, she and I knew how bad things could get. This was no teachable moment, nor was it an opportunity to resist the system. For the two us, it had become a matter of life and death. I knew that my work or school affiliations, publications, number of followers, awards, resumes, or networks would not have stopped that officer from harming me.
It is important to understand how anti-Black terrorism feels like an imminent threat more than a statistical possibility for Black people. It is a haunting threat that is rewritten into our consciousness as we read story after story or murder and assault. And for me at least, the burden of fear is enough of for me to bear without also having to succinctly articulate the gendered and racialized politics of anti-Black violence. So for those of you who can, I implore you to take care of yourself. Take advantage of any opportunities to unplug, detach, and hopefully heal.